A Review by Austin: Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire
Austin is a civil engineer, aspiring triathlete, and avid outdoor adventurer who is based out of Reno. He is always looking for new and exciting ways to get outside and experience nature. However, as a former boy scout, he knows the value of always being prepared which is why he decided to upgrade from a Forerunner to a Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire.
In early 2021, we did a deep-dive interview with Austin to explore the nitty-gritty of what his experience with the Fenix 6 has been like. In the interview, he dives into what he enjoys about the Fenix 6, how it has assisted his outdoor adventures and goes into detail about the technical features that he enjoys. Recently, he has taken the Fenix 6 out for spins on hikes in the Desolation Wilderness and while training for triathlons.
What Fenix 6 model does Austin have?
Austin has the Fenix 6 Sapphire Edition- meaning that he chose to have a sapphire lens, did not opt for premium features, and decided on the standard 47mm case size.
When you purchase a Fenix 6 you have three basic options to choose from: (1) Lens Options, (2) Premium Features, and (3) Size. A customer’s combination of decisions will determine the name of the model.
Lens Options – Determines edition name:
- Standard – a standard lens
- Sapphire – scratch-resistant
- Solar – allows the lens to harvest solar energy
Premium Features – Determines if the model is described as Pro:
- Base – the standard Fenix load-out. It still comes with all of the top-of-the-line Fenix features.
- Pro – Enables trendline popularity routing, PacePro, ski maps, and the ability to preload music
Size – Determines if the watch is called 6S, 6, or 6X:
- S – 42mm case size.
- Base – 47mm case size.
- X – 51mm case size.
Garmin fēnix® 6 – Sapphire Edition Hiking Watch with TOPO Maps
Our Full Interview with Austin about his Fenix 6 Sapphire
Below is the full interview we did with Austin. Please note that his responses have been edited for clarity and readability.
Before you bought your Fenix 6 Sapphire did you use any other watches or similar?
I had a Garmin Forerunner 235 previously. So, just for biking, running, that kind of thing.
Why did you upgrade from the Forerunner to the Fenix 6?
Before I upgraded, I had just completed a triathlon and was hoping to do some more. I was hoping to move to the mountains and have the opportunity to spend a little more time hiking or backpacking, being outside where the longer battery life would be helpful. So, I was looking for something that had a little more functionality
What features were missing on the Forerunner?
I was interested a lot in having the topo map capability. That ended up being one of the deciding factors. I also wanted something that had a little more swimming functionality. So I got the Sapphire version, so whichever one comes with a hardened case, and the Sapphire screen is a little more durable. I knew that I was just looking to upgrade to something with a little more features (altitude, pulse ox, better battery), that was a little more capable than just a GPS tracker and your heartbeat information.
What were you using to GPS track your activity before upgrading?
On my 235, I just would use the Track My Runs. It just gives you your distance, but there’s no mapping or anything on it. So, I would have to have a route planned.
Did you look at any other watches or any other Garmin models before you ended up with 6?
I looked at one of the Tri models (the 945 or 935), but the battery life was a little bit shorter. It also didn’t have the option for a hardened screen, which I needed as I beat up my old one a little bit. That was a selling point for the Fenix, the hardened screen.
Did your new Fenix 6 Sapphire come preloaded with maps?
Yes, It came preloaded with North American maps. But you can add maps to it. However, you have to use a computer, not your phone.
Do you feel like the details on the map are enough to help you feel confident in navigating? Despite not using a larger screen like a phone?
The user interface can be clunky at times because you’re on a 11/2-inch, 1-inch screen. However, despite that, it has standard topo maps (with 20-foot contours) with a little bit of extra detail (waypoints and points of interest on it) and the trails are highlighted in red. So, it’s got, pretty much, your standard topo map markings and stylings. You can zoom in and out, you can pan and scroll and get to a different place or look at something else on the map.
I’ve used the watch a couple of times as my sole source of navigation. I’ve used it to spot-check my location before. That’s a really convenient thing to do. However, I almost always have a paper map with me so I can check the physical map if I have any more questions than what I can see easily on the watch. That’s the boy scout in me…
Has the Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire improved your hiking experience?
I love tracking my hikes. The longer battery life on the Fenix 6 makes it easier to get more hiking in. Due to the various tabs on the Fenix 6, you can scroll down to look at how long you’ve been out and your elevation.
I traveled out west for a job interview and I brought my boots to get a hike in. was hoping to get a hike in and brought my boots just in case I had time. There was late winter, early spring, just a was a little bit of snow on the ground, up in the mountains but. the trail had clearly been hiked on recently. However,, so there were some footprints around, but where snow-covered it, you at times you couldn’t tell where the trail was when the snow-covered it.. I was able to follow the trail on my Fenix 6 and get to where I was headed.
On the way back, the map that the trailhead had shown, there was an alternate route back to the trailhead and I had gone right on the way up and wanted to come around the loop to get back, but I wasn’t sure how far it was, the sunset was approaching and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to find the turnoff for the spur back to the trailhead. But I was able to scroll on my Fenix 6, pull up the map on my watch and figure out the distance to the spur back to the trailhead.
The Fenix 6 also tells you when sunset is. Which is a useful feature for if you want to get something done before dark. So, I was like, “all right, I’ve got maybe 30 minutes before the sun goes down. It’s less than a mile to the junction and then like a half a mile back to the trailhead, as opposed to the one and a half miles, maybe a little more that I had gone to get to that point from the first trailhead”. So, the distances were about the same, and I knew if I wasn’t able to find the trail exactly, I could just walk around until I found the spot on the map where the two lines came together and then head up the hill towards the road.
In the end, I took the scenic way back and made it to the car just in time for sunset. I was off the trail and back somewhere warm before the sun went down thanks to my Fenix 6. I don’t know if I would have been comfortable with taking the risk of an unfamiliar trail on the way back to the car with dusk approaching otherwise – especially without cell service.
The Fenix 6 has been great for situations like that. The functionality is all built-in and I didn’t have to, like, pull up a map before I left and make sure it was loaded or anything and the trails were pre-marked on the default maps.. I was able to navigate to the map, scroll around a little bit, find out where I wanted to go, and use it to double-check my progress.
Do you upload information to the same app as you did with the Forerunner?
Yeah, the built-in pairing is with Garmin Connect. It automatically pulls your activity data off the watch and syncs with your phone. You can do it over the computer as well, I think, but it’s really convenient if your phone is within Bluetooth range. As soon as you finish an activity, it starts uploading it. If there is Internet connectivity, you can also send your data to other accounts. I have my Strava account linked up and as soon as the event syncs with Garmin Connect it automatically pushes it to Strava as well.
Does the Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire give you a little extra confidence?
It makes me a lot less worried about ever getting lost. I’d be able to get back to the trailhead. The Fenix 6 also helps me nerd out about the heights a little bit by giving me some more information about what direction I’m heading, if there’s a big barometric pressure change, elevation gain, and I really enjoy getting to see how far I’ve gone.
It’s a lot easier to have it with the watch and it makes it more accessible, because you don’t have to have spent 10 years in the backcountry and know how to read a map, how to pace yourself, or be able to tell when the weather’s changing just based on the temperature or the wind. It makes all the things that you learn in the woods a little more accessible for people who don’t have the same experience.
Has your watch ever come into play with your line of work?
I’m a civil engineer so it is nice to have it out in the field. When we are doing some surveying we need a rough guess of what our elevation is. Just this week we ran into a situation where I was able to just pull that info up on my watch. Instead of having to pull out a GPS unit and wait for it to get a signal or pull up a map and find our location, it just took me a couple of seconds of looking. It’s also always nice to be able to point north without a compass because the watch has the compass on it. So, yeah, it’s helpful. I can’t say that I use it every day on the job, but it is nice and adds a little bit of value.
Why do you love your Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire?
I love it because at my heart, I’m a nerd and I love all the data that it gives me about myself, my heart rate, resting heart rate. It gives me stress and recovery metrics for activities, for training, as well as just normal daily life. So, it’s really cool to be able to get under the hood a little bit and see what’s going on that I may not be able to realize consciously. And it’s also a great tool to use for outdoor pursuits. It adds value to my hiking. The Fenix 6 can also track my runs and bikes and swims, kayaking or skiing or backpacking. The watch can really can handle just about anything I throw at it.
I also just enjoy using it. I wouldn’t turn around and buy the 7 when it comes out, because what I have works well, and as long as it works well, I’ll probably keep using it until the time is right to upgrade.